When I stepped out through the sliding glass doors of the Hong Kong International Airport, located on Lantau Island, the first thing I noticed was the heat. I felt as though I was swimming in a hot tub. The air was so thick with humidity that I almost could have swum to the taxi that took me to the New Territories, and to the organic farm at which I was to spend the next two weeks. Out of my taxi windows I saw dazzling skyscrapers, towering green mountains, and the blue of the sea. On that first trip to the more rural mainland, I took in Hong Kong’s grandeur, rather than the crowding and clutter which I would later become a part of when, at the end of my stay at the farm, I would move to the city for my summer internship.
I was visiting the organic farm, Efarm HK near Hok Tau Village, in order to work and to conduct interviews for my Environmental Studies thesis on organic farming. I had secured my stay at the farm through WWOOF, or the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program. This program helps you get in touch with organic farmers across the world who provide you with housing and some food in exchange for farm labor. After my two weeks living and working at the farm, I would move to Hong Kong city’s central district, on the main island, and spend eight weeks teaching creative writing at a learning center called Elephant Community Press. That opportunity was acquired through Penn’s International Internship Program, which also provided me with funding for the summer.
I arrived at Efarm HK at three pm Hong Kong time, three am US time, and immediately passed out in a bunk bed, serenaded by the rhythmic croaking of toads. The next morning I woke up early and explored the farm, observing two large fish ponds, an aquaculture set-up under a greenhouse, rows of papaya trees, fields of corn, soy beans, and other vegetables I didn’t recognize, and another greenhouse full of squash. The farm was surrounded on all sides by impenetrable jungle, and a lush mountain rose above the fields.
From that day on I tried to wake up as early as possible and get my farmwork done before it got too hot. Then I would lounge near the fan with the farm’s two cats and two dogs, sorting good soybeans from rotten ones while the farm workers drank ice water flavored with honey from the farm’s beehives and chatted in Cantonese. For lunch one of the workers, Mr. Wu, would catch a trout from the pond and sauté it with herbs from the garden. I eventually met the farm’s owners, Teresa and Augustine, and interviewed them at length about their careers as organic farmers. They had bought the farm after retiring from their lifelong careers. (Augustine, funnily enough, had been a salesman of women’s underwear.) They made no profit from the farm, and had started it because of their concern with Hong Kong’s lack of sustainable agriculture.
At 5:30 pm, all the farmers drove home, and I was left alone on the farm. This scared me at first, but before long it had become my favorite part of the day. I could watch the sunset and sip lemon tea, a mosquito coil lit under the table and the farm’s friendly dogs lying panting at my feet.